Obama: I Did Not Mean “Stupidity” As a Slight of the Cambridge Officers

225px-official_portrait_of_barack_obama180px-Henry_Louis_GatesAs expected, President Barack Obama attempted to backtrack from his statements yesterday denouncing the police for the “stupidity” of their arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates. In today’s statement, Obama insisted that when he referred to their stupidity he did not mean to malign them. While “stupidity” is not a term of endearment, it can apparently be used without any negative connotations for the arresting officers — even when linked with the nation’s history of racism and profiling abuses.

The President said “I unfortunately gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department or Sgt. Crowley specifically. I could have calibrated those words differently, and I told this to Sgt. Crowley.”

The President said that he called Sgt. James Crowley to explain his intended meaning and expressed regret at the reaction of people. The President’s call is commendable and he indicated that he chose his words badly.

Others have not been so circumspect. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who referred to the arrest as “every black man’s nightmare and a reality for many black men.” That may be a bit more difficult to explain in a complimentary way.
Despite the call, President Obama also stated last night that, while he is surprised by the backlash, “I think it was a pretty straightforward commentary that you probably don’t need to handcuff a guy, a middle-aged man who uses a cane, who’s in his own home.”

Crowley has threatened a defamation lawsuit against Gates and says that, when he asked Gates to come out of the house, Gates went ballistic and starting calling him a racist. He says that Gates told him “that I had no idea who I was ‘messing’ with” and “I’ll speak with your mama outside.” Gates denies the remarks.

Obama again stated that he does not know all of the facts and “I don’t know all the extenuating circumstances, and as I said, I respect what police officers do. From what I can tell, the sergeant who was involved is an outstanding police officer, but my suspicion is probably it would have been better if cooler heads prevailed.”

I still believe that there was no likely reason for this arrest. However, I also believe that it was a mistake for the President to make comments about a case when the facts are in dispute — particularly when a friend is involved.

Moreover, if stupid is not a negative reference, it changes many famous lines such as the statement of the College President that “Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son.” Or “stupid is as stupid does” in Forrest Gump.

For the story, click here.

33 thoughts on “Obama: I Did Not Mean “Stupidity” As a Slight of the Cambridge Officers

  1. Professor, you are all right! A reasoned argument, then Classic Movie Line #4… priceless. Thanks!

  2. I am channeling Clinton here and trying to divine just what “stupid” means. I really thought I knew. The President’s call was a magnanimous gesture made necessary by his foolish one.

  3. This is the second time you’ve said that the president called the policeman stupid. He did not. In your last post on the subject you put the word “stupidity” in quotes, as if quoting the president.

    The president said, the police acted stupidly. That’s a long way from calling the officer stupid. Commenting on behavior is not commenting on the officer’s state of being as a person.

    Please quote correctly.

  4. Interesting that while this story is all over the national news, within the past week four police officers in Grand Prairie, TX were suspended for circulating a racist email about Mr Obama–even after diversity training) and a public official (don’t remember the city) was caught doing the same, but with little or no press. Both stories were carried on the Huffington Post but no place else that I saw.

  5. Obama made a mistake in commenting on this for a number of reasons. He should not pretend that saying someone acting “stupidly” doesn’t mean what it means in ordinary language. He should not pretend that he had no idea this comment would not go over well. What he said later about this being a teachable moment was very good. It cools things down and allows time for information to come out. It is still my hope that these two men will resolve the issue between them and come forward together to show that people can make real mistakes, learn from them and be better people. Something very good would come out of this situation if they took this path.

  6. Stupid is as stupid does. What is stupid is continuing to talk about this like the president calling someone’s actions stupid really matters, instead of talking about the real issues. It was an inconsequential remark on a topic completely unrelated to the more than an hour of discourse before. Sometimes I think the administration likes when this sort of thing absorbs hours of news cycle, it pushes questions on things like infinite detention, two quagmire wars, and ridiculous levels of spending out of the discussion… and the other side just sees it as more fodder for “Yet another reason Obama is bad for America”.

  7. “stupid is as stupid does”

    Well which one is it?

    Does Obama simply look stupid or is he actually stupid?

  8. In the final analysis, Officer Crowley and Professor Gates both acted stupidly and Mr Obama used a very poor choice of words.

    THE END.

    Now, let’s get back to passing health care reform.

  9. People are misquoting what the president said in the original news conference.

    He said he did not have the facts concerning the racial issues, but that a disabled fellow with a cane was no threat to armed and trained police.

    The stupidity, and it most surely was, was for the trained professionals who teach other people how to avoid these types of things, could not avoid it.

    Why?

    A lack of professionalism or just a stupid mistake?

    I see it as a stupid mistake, not a racial mistake.

  10. stu⋅pid –adjective

    1. lacking ordinary quickness and keenness of mind; dull.

    2. characterized by or proceeding from mental dullness; foolish; senseless.

    3. tediously dull, esp. due to lack of meaning or sense; inane; pointless.

    4. annoying or irritating; troublesome.

    Any police officer who can’t figure out how to walk away from arresting a man in his own home in these circumstances has most certainly become temporarily stupid or temporarily insane.

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/stupid

  11. Well at least a subject that he might be familiar with, personally. Like attorneys familiarity with stupidity on a daily basis of Judges ruling and sometime why.

    As someone pointed out. Most cops are good. I may agree with that, the ones willing to cross that code of blue is rare though. I speak from experience dealing with cops on that one.

  12. Righty-o

    RE: “stupid is as stupid does”

    Well which one is it?

    Does Obama simply look stupid or is he actually stupid?

    N.B. THIS REFERS TO OBAMA’S INABILITY TO KEEP HIS MOUTH SHUT IN THE LAST MINUTE OF THE PRESS CONFERENCE.

  13. if this had been a white resident who explained to a black cop that he’s mistakenly locked himself out of his own home and if the president was also white this would be buried in the back pages of the local evening outrage.

    maybe what this incident does is open a wider discussion on race relations which are abysmal.

  14. I think this will turn out to be a teaching moment, albeit paid at an unnecessary price to the two main actors.

  15. Thanks, eniobob.

    It’s . . . what it is. Some moments are good. Some are bad. Some are very bad.

    The best? Well, even those moments have lost their luster for the present, but they aren’t as bad as sitting in my car at a mall parking lot crying for half an hour after seeing a little boy that looked like T.

    But again, thanks to you and all of my other friends here for their kindnesses. It has made this difficult time somewhat more bearable.

  16. Too much testosterone all around. It’s all about the backdown on both sides. When there’s an imbalance of power at the time, the results are obvious.

  17. Race relations are probably better than ever, not worse. The right wing has more or less become unhinged and this, unlike wealth, really does trickle down. But their venom has punch only on a relatively small number of people. For the vast majority, including many Republicans, it pulls away the curtain and shows just how whacked out the right wing has become.

    The danger comes more from Obama’s – not to mention the Democrat’s – shallowness and timidity in standing up for principal, or really for much of anything. The result may be a deeply disappointing presidency. And no matter how unfair, that could have an insidious and long lasting effect on race relations; more so than most of the things the wing nuts can do.

    Regardless, a black can be President. Progress of an overwhelming sort has taken place and can not be reversed.

  18. Hmmm writes: Race relations are probably better than ever, not worse. The right wing has more or less become unhinged and this, unlike wealth, really does trickle down. But their venom has punch only on a relatively small number of people. For the vast majority, including many Republicans, it pulls away the curtain and shows just how whacked out the right wing has become.

    me: better than what? Jim Crow? the right wing has its problems and race is a big part of that. Micheal Steel was supposed to fix that and he can’t seem to do anything except offend comedian Rush Limbaugh and the apologize. that big republican tent? it’s a sad pathetic racist side show.

    Hmmm: The danger comes more from Obama’s – not to mention the Democrat’s – shallowness and timidity in standing up for principal, or really for much of anything. The result may be a deeply disappointing presidency. And no matter how unfair, that could have an insidious and long lasting effect on race relations; more so than most of the things the wing nuts can do.

    me: timidity? shallowness? what do you mean?

    Hmmm: Regardless, a black can be President. Progress of an overwhelming sort has taken place and can not be reversed.

    me: yes he can be president but under what circumstances? a divided democratic party that hasn’t figured out that it can accomplish pretty much anything, the right wing saying nonono to everything and racists on tv pushing this socialist/commie/birther juice.

    btw…. are you white?

  19. personally I know quite a few republicans and most of them, actually the majority, are not racist. Now they may not talk honestly in front of me but they seem genuine.

  20. The Police lied in their report.

    Boston Globe today said “The woman whose report of a possible house break-in led to the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. said she never mentioned race during her 911 call and is “personally devastated’’ by media accounts that suggest she placed the call because the men she observed on the porch were black, according to a lawyer acting as her spokeswoman.

    “In an interview last night, Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert C. Haas said it was accurate that Whalen did not mention race in her 911 call. He acknowledged that a police report of the incident did include a race reference. The report says Whalen observed “what appeared to be two black males with backpacks on the front porch’’ of a Ware Street home on July 16.

    “That reference is there, said Haas, because the police report is a summary. Its descriptions – like the race of the two men – were collected during the inquiry, not necessarily from the initial 911 call, he said.”

    The report lied. The woman did not observe “what appeared to be two black males.”

    How much of the report contains information that is false that was “collected during the inquiry”? Where did those backpacks come from? Imagination.

  21. IS writes: personally I know quite a few republicans and most of them, actually the majority, are not racist. Now they may not talk honestly in front of me but they seem genuine.

    I know alot of racists and they all happen to be republicans

  22. old white guy writes: Boston Globe today said “The woman whose report of a possible house break-in led to the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. said she never mentioned race during her 911 call and is “personally devastated’’ by media accounts that suggest she placed the call because the men she observed on the porch were black, according to a lawyer acting as her spokeswoman.

    you know what? I know what my neighbors look like. all of them. unless this woman is legally blind or is a shut in, she did this thing to make trouble.
    so she is personally devastated? for what? for thinking that her neighbor wa a criminal? she should be.

  23. NY Times has story on the 911 tape just released by the police, 5:30 PM, July 27. She never mentioned race to anyone, either on the tape or on the street to the officer, and was new to the street, and told the dispatcher that she thought they lived there. Not her fault.

    The facts are not breaking well for the folks who rushed to defend the police. Sgt wanted the cars to keep coming, so how could there be any threat of a disturbance?

    Best advice to both: forget lawsuits, sit down and talk, and then to your books and movies to cash in big time on your fame: documentary for Gates, and Law and Order ripped from the headlines for the Sgt.

  24. As more information becomes available, one has less and less faith in Crowley’s Police Report. Whalen’s denial regarding the mention of “black men” while standing on the sidewalk carries the ring of truth due to her denial of mentioning “black men” during the 911 call proven by the newly released tape. Other released tapes did not confirm Crowley and his Union’s insistence that said tapes would confirm Gates’ shouting. The Cambridge Police Department’s explanation of the inconsistencies within the Police Report as a “summary” of events sounds more defensive than credible, which further contributes to the document’s unreliability.

    As more information becomes available “…acted stupidly” seems like a reasonable comment.

    As to what the public may learn from this incident, I suggest that the lesson is not what the many Police Departments across the country that rushed to Crowley’s defense, anticipated. Ordinary, every day citizens of all races will think twice before opening their doors to a policeman or stepping outside their houses to talk to officers. Further, given the circumstances in which Ms. Whalen now finds herself, those same citizens will think long and hard before calling the police to report any suspicious behavior.

    Although this particular case did not go to trial, the court of public opinion will render its own quiet verdict on law enforcement. The phrase, “You’ve been Crowleyed” is already making its way into the language.

  25. The story below is one of the things that truly irks me about Obama pretending to be concerned about racial profiling. Considering that we pick up brown skinned people all over the world and throw them in Bagram and our conduct towards immigrants, legal and illegal, this stated “concern” is just BS Obama is putting out to cover his own actions:

    “Published on Wednesday, July 29, 2009 by The New York Times
    US Rejects Call for Immigration Detention Rules

    by Nina Bernstein

    The Obama administration has refused to make legally enforceable rules for immigration detention, rejecting a federal court petition by former detainees and their advocates and embracing a Bush-era inspection system that relies in part on private contractors.

    The decision, contained in a six-page letter received by the plaintiffs this week, disappointed and angered immigration advocacy organizations around the country. They pointed to a stream of newly available documents that underscore the government’s failure to enforce minimum standards it set in 2000, including those concerning detainees’ access to basic health care, telephones and lawyers, even as the number of people detained has soared to more than 400,000 a year.”

    http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2009/07/29

  26. Well, I guess Barry Soetoro either acted “stupidly” using his position to attack another individual citizen or we have a racist for a president. Either way, it’s a shame.

Comments are closed.